Only One Earth – Another 5,000 years of Civilizations

The Problem

All humans, all of humanity’s products and all life are made from NATURE which is evermore rapidly, relentlessly destroyed.

Unsustainable Development (left graph above): In the last 50 years, natural resource extractions / consumption nearly quadrupled, to an unsustainable 99 billion tonnes per year, increasing 2.5% per year. 1

Climate Change (right graph above): In just 50 years, the radiative forcing (warming effect) of atmospheric greenhouse gases has more than doubled 2, humanity’s emissions are 56 gigatonnes CO2eq per year, increasing 2% per year 3.

Extraction / consumption of natural resources (the destruction of nature) accounts for 90%+ biodiversity loss and water impacts 4 and is the source of GHG emissions: fossil fuels cause 80%, biomass 14%, and minerals 6% of humanity’s GHG emissions 5.

Humanity has failed to achieve the 1972 Only One Earth objective of ‘Protection and Preservation of the Human Environment’: more than 80% of unsustainable development including global warming have occurred since UNEP’s founding 6, 7 .

Collapse: the astonishing scientific evidence is that on longterm – and current trends (including the ‘Covid 19 pause’), the next 35 years of natural resource extraction and fossil fuel emissions will equal the last 300,000 years, the entire time of our H. sapiens species 8– and it won’t stop there. There will be massive food, water, energy, medicine and other critical shortages, armies of desperate refugees, potentially billions of deaths with social-economic collapse inevitable.

The Solution

Transformative change: With no global government, the solution is that 197 nations act now to stay within science limits for sustainable development including holding global warming to 1.5˚C / 2˚C. Here are the science limits:

  • Sustainable development: limit natural resource consumption per capita to 7 tonnes per year by 2050 (International Resource Panel) 9;
  • Climate stabilization: limit CO2 emissions per capita to 117 tonnes for 2˚C, 32 tonnes for 1.5˚C (budget 2019 – 2100, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 10.

Collapse stopped: UN ultra high developed nations – the best educated, healthiest, wealthiest – set the standards for humanity and must lead 11 .

Ultra High Developed Sweden’s (eg) current natural resource consumption is 32.5 tonnes per capita per year (increasing 2.6% per year) 1 , many times over the 2050 science limit of 7 tonnes. To adhere to the science limit Sweden must reduce consumption 4.7% per year by law, starting now, increasing with inaction.

Sweden’s current CO2 emissions of 7.4 tonne per capita per year (decreasing only 0.4% per year) 13 will exceed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change science limit of 32 tonnes for 1.5˚C in just 4 years, and exceed IPCC’s 117 tonnes for 2˚C in 16 years. To be within science limits Sweden must reduce CO2 emissions 25% per year for 1.5˚C, 6% per year for 2˚C, by law, starting now, increasing with inaction 14.

One-action does not fit all nations: In stunning contrast to the Ultra High Developed Sweden, low developed Tanzania eg. with very low consumption and very low emissions can increase natural resource consumption 8% for sustainable development, increase CO2 emissions 2% for 2˚C, increase CO2 0.6% for 1.5˚C per year now 14.

Download the full list of nations ranked by the United Nations Human Development Index, from the ultra high to the low developed, with national resource extractions and emissions from consumption, and the reductions and additions by national responsibility to remain within the science limits of natural resource extraction and CO2 emissions from consumption per capita per year now, fast increasing with inaction. Just as knowledge of Covid-19 national cases and deaths is required to stop the pandemic, national natural resource consumption and greenhouse gases emissions must be publicly known to stop trends to social-economic collapse with potentially billions of dead.

If these reductions are politically impossible, then socio-economic collapse is scientifically probable.

Closed mass laws: Earth is a closed mass system, there are no meaningful material imports, exports or emigrations and none are probable, perhaps ever. In this unique post-COVID-19 opportunity to rebuild economies, all nations must enact these 4 closed mass science laws to avert collapse:

  1. Transformatively change from quantity to quality by law
  2. Extract / consume the fewest possible natural resources by law
  3. Make only the products that are the very best, lasting, shared, repairable and cyclical by law
  4. Reduce human population (starting with highest per capita consumers/emitters, eg ultra high above)

Painless product reduction. Products are the great destroyer of nature. The good news is that humanity’s best science concludes, and Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google agree, that when basic needs are met, happiness is first humans, activities and nature not products – the reduction of which can thus be painless

10% GDP to save the future. Victory in war can cost 50% of GDP. If 90% is spent for the present, just 10% of GDP – fairly distributed – can secure the future of all of our children. Politicians and scientists can unite and challenge voters, “How much do you love your children, 10% GDP?”

1 United Nations Environment Programme, International Resource Panel (2020), Global Material Flows database

2 Butler J. H. & S. A. Montzka, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, (2020) The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Index (AGGI)  (2020)

3 Olivier J.G.J & J.A.H.W.Peters, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (2020), Trends in Global CO2 and Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

4 United Nations Environment Programme, International Resource Panel (2019), Global Resources Outlook 2019, Natural Resources for the Future we Want.

5 United Nations Environment Programme, International Resource Panel, forthcoming

6 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) (2020): Global Annual Mean Surface Air Temperature Change 1880 – present.

7 World Meteorological Organization (2020): Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019.

8 Data sources: Fisher-Kowalski M et al, (2014): A socio-metabolic reading of the Anthropocene: modes of subsistence, population size and human impact on Earth; World Population Prospects (2017): medium estimate; Krausmann F. (2011): Social Ecology Working Paper 131; Krausmann, F et al. (2018): From resource extraction to outflows of wastes and emissions: The socioeconomic metabolism of the global economy, 1900-2015 online dataset; UN Environment International Resource Panel Global Material Flows Database.

9 United Nations Environment, International Resource Panel (2014): Managing and conserving the natural resource base for sustained economic and social development.

10 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018): Special Report, Global warming of 1.5˚C. (67% probability, accounting for earth system feedbacks (100 GtCO2), relying on rapid reduction of non-CO2 forces, with no temperature overshoot and no negative emissions, 88% allocated for combustion of fossil fuels and industry.)

11 United Nations Development Programme (2019), Human Development Index

12 World Health Organisation (2020) Covid-19 Situation Reports

13 Friedlingstein P. et al, Global Carbon Budget (2019) Global Budget 2019 (v1.0), National Carbon Emissions 2019 (v1.0) Consumption based emissions